Movie Review: 'Bernie' -- 3 stars

Shirley MacLaine as ?Marjorie Nugent? and Jack Black

Shirley MacLaine as “Marjorie Nugent” and Jack Black plays "Bernie Tiede." (Credit: Shirley MacLaine as “Marjorie Nugent” and Jack Black plays "Bernie Tiede." )

3 stars
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey
Rated PG-13

Most movie characters are recycled in some form, so it's a great surprise and unequivocal pleasure to come across one that's as original as Bernie Tiede.

Brilliantly played by Jack Black, the protagonist of Richard Linklater's quasi-documentary "Bernie" - which is based on a real Carthage, Tex. murder case from the 1990s and features interviews with actual townspeople - is both empathetic and mysterious.

He's a deeply religious assistant funeral director blessed with tremendous people skills and an angelic singing voice. But, at the same time, there's a hint of darkness there, hollowness to his smile.

The film follows Bernie's suffocatingly close, dysfunctional relationship with the bitter millionaire widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), who subjects him to significant mental abuse. One day, in a sudden fit of rage, Bernie kills her, setting off an elaborate deception.

With the shifts in tone spurred by its unique blend of fiction and nonfiction, the movie mirrors the unforgettable main character. The talking head segments are enhanced by a metaphysical aura, imparted through an ample quotient of church music, swooping, soaring camera movements above a funeral and Black's haunting otherworldly demeanor.

The cumulative effect of it all: A dark, humorous look at southern oddballs that's also a meditation on human fragility. 

Tags: Entertainment , Movie Review , Robert Levin , Bernie

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